While the Tampa Bay Lightning can still advance to the
postseason for the first time in three seasons, they don’t have
much time to get back on track.
The Lightning look to snap a four-game road losing streak
Thursday and post a fourth straight win at Air Canada Centre as
they face the Eastern Conference-worst Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite losing six of seven, Tampa Bay (27-27-11) is in 11th
place in the East and five points back of Boston for the eighth and
final playoff spot with a month left in the regular season.
Second-year center Steven Stamkos has been doing his best to
carry the Lightning to their first postseason appearance since
2006-07, but not even his franchise-record 17-game point streak has
been enough to curb the team’s poor play. He has 16 goals and 15
assists during this stretch.
“None of that’s going to matter if we’re not in the playoffs,”
Stamkos said after setting a team record with his 17th power-play
goal in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Montreal. “I’m just trying to do my
part and help this team win and that’s creating offense. I’m going
to keep doing that for the rest of the year.”
Stamkos has five points in the last two meetings with Toronto
but had none in the Lightning’s only visit to Air Canada Centre
this season – a 2-1 overtime victory Nov. 3.
Ryan Malone had the game-winner in that matchup, but he could
miss his second straight contest with an upper-body injury. He’s
gone 14 games without scoring since tallying a third-period,
game-tying goal in a 3-2 overtime win over the Maple Leafs on Jan.
Tampa Bay hasn’t had problems scoring lately – averaging 3.5
goals in its last 10 games – but likely needs a better effort in
net to avoid its first five-game slide on the road since an 0-5-2
stretch from Nov. 28-Dec. 17. The Lightning have given up five
goals in four straight road games and are allowing a league-high
3.67 per game away from home.
Antero Niittymaki, 1-3-0 with a 5.79 goals-against average in
his last five starts, was pulled 7:33 into the second period
Tuesday after allowing four goals on 13 shots. Niittymaki is 2-1-0
with a 2.26 GAA versus the Maple Leafs this season.
Mike Smith stopped 14 of 15 shots in relief Tuesday, but he is
0-4-0 with a 3.60 GAA in his last seven appearances. Smith has won
his only two career starts against Toronto.
The Lightning have limited the Leafs to a total of four goals in
winning their last three trips to Toronto after losing six straight
While Tampa Bay looks to inch closer to a playoff spot, the
Maple Leafs (21-33-12) are trying to impact the race from the
bottom of the East standings.
“We want to make it hard on teams and any way we can we want to
win,” Luca Caputi told the team’s official Web site after scoring
his first goal with Toronto in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over
Boston. “It’s a good atmosphere to be around right now. It’s fun
when you’re playing hockey and winning games.”
Rookie Jonas Gustavsson made six of his 26 saves in overtime
Tuesday and will likely get his second straight start as Toronto
goes for back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 12-14.
Gustavsson is 1-0-2 with a 2.58 GAA versus Tampa Bay.
Fellow rookie Carl Gunnarsson, who scored his second goal
Tuesday, has four of his seven assists against the Lightning.